The Wisconsin football team’s ceiling for success in the 2014 season hinges on redshirt junior quarterback Joel Stave’s role.
Still recovering from a shoulder injury, Stave watched from the sidelines Saturday as fellow redshirt junior quarterback Tanner McEvoy took snaps with the first team offense during Wisconsin’s annual spring game. And that is precisely where he should stay if the Badgers want their best chance at making the inaugural Division I College Football Playoff.
McEvoy is the one person who can make sure that happens, as he is the last quarterback standing in the battle for the starting job.
“Those two kids are going to get most of the reps in the fall, those two being Tanner and obviously Joel,” Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen told reporters after the spring game.
After two seasons as the starting quarterback at Wisconsin, Stave has done nothing to solidify his position as the Badgers’ top gunslinger, posting a 13-6 overall record in games he started. The Greenfield native has completed 61 percent of his passes for 3,598 yards, 28 touchdowns and 16 interceptions and has suffered serious injuries — a broken collarbone and an injured shoulder — in both freshman and sophomore seasons.
Stave’s career numbers are good — he finished fifth in program history for passing yards in a single season (2,494) in 2013 — but he had a lot of help, help that won’t necessarily be there this fall.
Last season, Stave had first-team All-Big Ten wide receiver Jared Abbrederis and two second-team All-Big Ten running backs (James White and Melvin Gordon) to lean on. The year before that, he had All-American and the NCAA’s record holder in career touchdowns, Montee Ball, behind him. Only Gordon will be back for the 2014 season.
With a majority of unproven talent at the offensive skill positions, Wisconsin desperately needs a playmaker at the quarterback position, and Stave is not it. An average arm that lacks accuracy at times and an inability to extend plays with his legs makes Stave a one-dimensional player.
On the other hand, McEvoy, a junior college transfer in his second year at Wisconsin, is a dual-threat with a strong arm and an ability to leave the pocket and make plays with his legs. At Arizona Western College, McEvoy threw for 1,943 yards and 25 touchdowns and rushed for 414 yards and six touchdowns.
In his first season with Wisconsin in 2013, McEvoy struggled to pick up the offense and dealt with a hand injury that knocked him out of contention for the quarterback role. In an effort to still get playing time, the New Jersey native switched to safety and would end up with 27 tackles and an interception.
Now with a full offseason at his disposal, McEvoy is back at quarterback and feels much more comfortable at the position.
“I think I’m a lot more comfortable. I think it shows,” McEvoy told reporters after Wisconsin’s spring game. “I can only make more strides so I’m looking forward to the summer and I’m looking forward to fall.”
McEvoy showed a comfort level with the offense in the spring game, throwing for two touchdowns and running for another in the first and second quarters, which weren’t scored.
“Tanner has improved a whole lot. He has definitely learned the playbook,” Wisconsin wide receiver Kenzel Doe said after the spring game. “Now he is back at quarterback and he has proved to me that he can compete for the starting job and he doesn’t really care what people say. He can run, he can throw — just have to give him a shot.”
Stave is the safe choice for Andersen because he knows what he will get: a quarterback that can manage the game, won’t make a ton of mistakes and will rely on the running game to make plays.
McEvoy may be more of a risk considering he hasn’t started a game at quarterback for Wisconsin yet or in division one for that matter, but I believe the Wisconsin’s ceiling of success is much greater with him manning the offense.
It’s time for Andersen to take a gamble at quarterback and give Wisconsin a dynamic offense that goes beyond the backfield. What does he have to lose? Another Outback Bowl?